Sr Mary on William Dalrymple's travels in Christian Middle East

 JERUSALEM - 5 August 2002 - 530 words

Recently I began reading a fascinating book by a British prizewinning author, William Dalrymple. It's an insightful travel diary of a young man's journey among the Christians all throughout the Middle East -- an elegy to the slowly dying civilization of Eastern Christianity and those people who have tried to keep the Christian faith alive. Yet I am finding it most informative and not a depressing book.

Dalrymple writes about the great monasteries of Palestine "before the Zionists expelled half the Palestinians and began to turn the country into an American suburb...."

He reminds reader that Islam has traditionally been tolerant of religious minorities, but is clear about the fact that "...things are suddenly becoming difficult for the last Christians of the Middle East. Almost everywhere in the Levant, for a variety of reasons -- partly because of economic pressure, but more often due to discrimination and in some cases outright persecution -- the Christians are leaving. Today there are a small minority of 14 million struggling to keep afloat amid 180 million non-Christians, with their numbers shrinking annually through emigration. In the last 20 years at least 2 million have left the Middle East to make new lives for themselves in Europe, Australia and America." This touches even closer to home when he writes concerning the Palestinian Christians. "... half a century after the creation of the State of Israel, fewer Palestinian Christians now remain in Palestine than live outside of it. According to a Palestinian Christian writer I talked to in London, things have got so bad that the remaining Christians in Jerusalem could be flown out in just nine jumbo jets; indeed there are now said to be more Jerusalem-born Christians living in Sydney than in Jerusalem itself."

I guess what also made this very real to me is that I had just set the book down and called a friend in the Bethlehem area. A frightened teenager answered the phone and told me of the bombing by the Israeli Occupation Forces of a house in their neighbourhood last night. She spoke of the screams, the fire and the smoke. It isn't easy for a Christian to live in this land....

Dalrymple adventures will take you inside countless monasteries, introduce you to some unique characters as he looks into their history while sharing their monastic life in all its aspects. He will also invite you into the homes of many Christians throughout the Levant, some here in Palestine. You will hear stories from a perspective that never makes the news because it is often from the perspective of little people, the anawim, of the bible.

Eric Newby's comment about this book was, "Everything a really good travel book should be. Witty, learned, and also very funny." So if you enjoy a good read, I suggest you pick up William Dalrymple's From the Holy Mountain, ISBN 0-8050-6177-0. It's a book that's hard to put down and I think you will learn a great deal about the roots of the Christian Church here in the land where it was born, learning it through a most enjoyable read. It might even touch your life.

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